Ex-stripper evangelizes to sex industry
Los Angeles Times
RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The phone rang — again — and Heather Veitch answered in her three-bedroom tract home. It was another radio station, this time from Detroit, and the disc jockey wanted to hear the tale of the stripper turned evangelist.
"I don't try to change their life," she said of the women she seeks out at strip clubs. "I just want them to have a relationship with God."
The DJ threw a curveball: Isn't it a sin to strip?
"It is a sin to strip," she answered. "But it's OK to strip for your husband."
Veitch then made an on-air confession: "I strip for my husband, and I teach women in my church how to do it, too."
She has been called the pinup preacher and porn again. She was introduced last week on evangelist Pat Robertson's "The 700 Club" as a "holy hottie."
Veitch describes herself as an evangelist, the head of three missionaries called JC's Girls Girls Girls.
Every month, JC's Girls (JC is for Jesus Christ) and a few female volunteer church members visit strip clubs, where they pay for lap dances. While alone with a stripper in a booth, they forgo the dance and share the Gospel.
JC's Girls went to Las Vegas in January for the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, regarded as the nation's largest trade show in the porn business, and handed out more than 200 Bibles wrapped in "Holy Hottie" T-shirts.
Veitch, 31, who was a stripper for four years, founded the outreach ministry last March.
A few months later, she and fellow member Lori Albee launched an edgy Web site — www.jcsgirls.com — that trades on the sex appeal of JC's Girls to attract visitors. Against a pastel background, provocative appeals appear: "If you are a CHRISTIAN ... See us in ACTION."
None of this caused much of a stir until The Daily Telegraph in England published a story on the ministry Dec. 5. The phone has been ringing since.
Veitch has been profiled in newspapers and on radio and has made the rounds of network and cable television.
She has appeared on tabloid TV, but last week's appearance on "The 700 Club" took her into Christian homes. Robertson's show drew an average of 863,000 viewers a day during the 2004-05 television season, Nielsen Media Research said.
The offers keep pouring in: movies, books, reality shows, more documentaries. Veitch sees a higher purpose in the publicity. "Every time I go on a radio station," she said, "I'm spreading God's message."
Not everyone agrees.
"I'm a little offended that she would use the Bible in such a sensuous manner," said the Rev. Ray Turner, pastor of Temple Missionary Baptist Church in San Bernardino, Calif. He noted that JC's Girls does not urge strippers to leave the sex industry.
"How can you stay in the industry and have a relationship with God?" he asked. "You can't serve two masters at one time."
Turner, however, praised her efforts. "I commend her for her zeal and desire to reach the lost for Christ."
The Rev. Matt Brown, founder and pastor of the 1,700-member Sandals Church in Riverside, home of JC's Girls, approved a budget of $50,000 for the ministry in January, up from $10,000 in 2005.
"Some people in our church were concerned that some of their offerings and tithes were paying for lap dances," said Brown, 34.
But Brown said that budget — a large portion of which goes to Veitch's salary — is a "drop in the bucket" compared to the funding for the sex industry. "We're really trying to speak to this industry that has been largely ignored by the evangelical church," he said.
He said some church members think it is a waste of time to minister to strippers. But he is not willing to write them off, he said, especially given Veitch's conversion.
Born in Los Angeles and reared in Muscoy, a town of 9,000 people in San Bernardino County, Veitch grew up poor and sad. "I was the girl from the wrong side of the tracks," she said.
At 14, she accepted a ride from a stranger on her way to school and ended up in a hotel room, where he raped her, she said. Veitch said she didn't report it because she was embarrassed. After that, she said, she became promiscuous. At 17, she became pregnant. The 22-year-old father, she said, turned out to be a deadbeat.
Veitch became a stripper in 1995, when she was 21, and said she eventually made $1,200 to $2,000 a night. She appeared in four soft-core and fetish films and lived life on the wild side.
By 1999, though, the thrill of fast money, hard drinking and fantasy enabling was gone.
Veitch planned to leave the business before the Millennium, when she said she thought the world would end. "I was starting to get nervous that if I died, I was going to pay the price for how I lived."
That's when she found her faith. Terry Meeuwsen, her interviewer on "700 Club," asked about her conversion: "Who told you about the Lord?"
"Nobody," Veitch said. "That's what inspires me to share with others. No one tried to reach me."
Changing the world
In September 1999, she married her boyfriend, Jon Veitch, and graduated from beauty school. She became a full-time hairdresser, retired as a stripper and had a daughter.
In 2003, Veitch learned a good friend, a stripper and alcoholic, had died.
"It broke my heart that no one was around who could tell her that it's never too late" to change, Veitch said. "I felt ashamed that I had run so far away from the industry, that I had forgotten about them. It's like running away from a burning house and knowing all your friends are there."
Veitch said she tries to balance her media appearances and ministry with acting as a caretaker for her husband, who is terminally ill with brain cancer. The couple said the ministry helps distract them from his illness. "We can't change this," she said, "but we can change the world."
Veitch said her ministry has inspired only seven strippers to visit her church but that the ministry has reached strippers across the country who contact her through the Web site, seeking a church to attend.
"I want to travel down the same path she's going," said Amber Miller, a stripper from Upland, Calif.
Since she started the ministry, Veitch has gotten back in shape and lost 25 pounds. She wanted the strippers to see that "jealousy is not what's driving this ministry. I want them to know that if I wanted to, I could be a stripper again, but I choose to live my life for the Lord."
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company